Thursday, March 22, 2012

Last Name

A gift at our shower/reception in February was for, "The future Mr. and Mrs. Sterndale."

In seventh grade, I wrote my name followed by my boyfriend's last name on notebook paper. It's not that I felt a longing desire to take another guys name, we're cultured. It's an expectation. It's just what women do.

I realize that it's an age-old tradition (dating back to the days when the woman literally became the property of the man she was marrying) for the bride to change her last name. In fact, 70% of Americans polled by USA today agree that women should take their husband's last name. But of course, when faced with this decision recently, that ornery question popped up again: "Why?"

Well, here are some reasons why I would change my last name:
-if we have kids, traveling internationally, dealing with schools, and proving custody will be easier for both of us
-banking records would probably be easier in the same name
-people will probably insist on calling me Mrs. Sterndale no matter how many times I correct them anyway. The assumptions will remain.

And here are some reasons why I would not:
-It's my name. It's my identity and has been for the last 24 years (a.k.a. my entire life). It's how people recognize who I am. It's how they search for me on-line. People who've known me since I was born will have a hard time finding and identifying me if we haven't seen each other in a few years. I may even be standing face-to-face with a new acquaintance who knows my family from Colorado, but we'll never come to that conclusion when I tell them my new name.
-I've published under my name. There'd be no continuity between articles or books if they are authored by different "Heathers."

Plus, the process of changing your name is not an easy one. Several things must be changed:
-social security card
-driver's license
-change your passport
-401K accounts
-car insurance/registration
-bank accounts
-billing accounts (credit cards, cell phone, electric, water, gas, etc.)
-club memberships
-dentist and doctor's offices
-employment records
-homeowner's/renter's insurance
-IRA accounts
-leases
-life insurance
-loans
-medical insurance
-pension plan records
-post office
-property titles
-safe-deposit box
-school records (alumni)
-stocks and bonds
-subscriptions
-wills/trusts
-e-mail address and all on-line subscriptions

Yikes!

There are a few options for brides who are not so thrilled about losing their name/identity upon marriage:
-We could both retain our own last names
-We could both take his last name
-We could both take my last name
-I could use my last name as my middle name, but my current middle name, Rose, was my grandmother's name and I don't want to lose that either.
-I could hyphenate
-We could both hyphenate (but dang, it would be nice if one of us had a less-syllabled last name)
-We could both take on a new last name (but then we'd really be lost to our identities...)

Lastly, in this day and age, I think it's important to consider, why does this decision only mean loss for the bride? Why is it an "inconvenience" if she doesn't take his name? Why does this only lie on her shoulders as if both are not part of this marriage? Why isn't it an inconvenience if he won't take hers? Why is the bride who actually thinks about whether or not she will change her name labeled as difficult, non-conformist, radical, and disrespectful?

Gratefully, I'm marrying a good feminist (FYI: for those of you still stuck on the F-word, a feminist is someone who believes that all people are equal, not better). And when I brought this up to Jeremy, he looked thoughtfully at the ceiling, peered back at me, and said, "Geez, I've never thought about that. If someone demanded that I change my name, that would be hard. I'll support you either way."

Often times, writing out my thoughts helps me realize what I believe. However, writing this out has not helped me make my decision. At all.

So please, what do you think? If you were in my position, what would you do?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Part 1: Hm.I was in your position not that long ago actually. Names are powerful things. They are identity. I remember having arguments with my friends when I was 12, coming to the conclusion that I would simply never get married because it wasn't fair to the woman. Thankfully, some of my positions changed. ;)

I chose not to change my name largely for the reasons you've listed. I honestly couldn't find a good reason why I should. It wasn't terribly hard for me, but it wasn't exactly easy either. It had never really occurred to Joe that I wouldn't take his name and I think he was a bit surprised and perhaps a little hurt. He even asked, "You don't want to be Mrs. Okimi?" I told him no, I didn't want to be Mrs. Okimi. I wanted to be his wife and partner in life. Equal partner. I'm still not sure he's totally comfortable with the idea but he also has said that he's not the person directly affected by the decision. He got my reasoning a little more when I asked how comfortable he would be taking my name.

I've had to defend my decision more than a little. I knew that I would. Old habits and old assumptions die hard. When people ask "why not?", I usually ask "why should I?" There is no law that states that I must and certainly no logical reason why it must be the woman who changes her name. There are actually several countries/provinces where women do NOT legally change their names(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_and_maiden_names). It may be a little easier for Joe and me. I can also ask what would happen if he had changed his name from Joe Okimi to Joe McCown. How much changes in that name change? He loses a part of who he is, not just a word but an identity as Japanese, as part of the Okimi family. And if that applies to him, it applies to me. I've been asked why I don't hyphenate. That way I could keep my name and still identify my change of marital status. Well. Why doesn't he do that, too? His marital status changed as well. Got odd looks on that one. For me, hyphenation was the same as changing, just with a longer name.

We actually haven't had issues with the bank or car insurance. While not terribly wide spread, not changing names isn't uncommon either. Also, enough people live together and open joint accounts that its just not a big deal. Health insurance maybe an issue when we get to that (money is stupid) but I'm quite prepared to make copies of our marriage certificate as needed.

I've also fielded the children question. We haven't fully decided if we even want to have children so its not too much of an issue just yet. For myself, I would prefer that they have both our last names. Inconvenient and unconventional? Yeah, probably. But they would carry with them the heritage of both parents. 'Sides, no one bats an eye at Hispanic/Latino names.

Anonymous said...

Part 2:
Yes, I've been introduced as and received mail as Mrs. Okimi. As I said above, old assumptions die hard. If it comes from someone who knows I didn't change my name and why, they're usually just trying to get a rise out of me (some friends or friends of Joe :P). Older persons and his parents I usually don't correct or try to correct subtly within the conversation. If introducing myself I make a point to say my whole name AND that I'm Joe's wife. I don't make a big deal about receiving mail as Mrs. Okimi but do make a point to send out mail as from the McCown/Okimi or Okimi/McCown household (my academic self demands alphabetization. ;P). For me, the idea is to not be militant about it but obvious. I'm not hiding it, I will ask that it be recognized, but I'm not going to beat someone over the head with it. Old assumptions die hard. Also, what is good and comfortable for me may not be so for someone else.

Now that I have been long winded, I'll leave you with some links to blog posts, etc. that deal with a the whole spectrum of issues. It may help. It may make it harder.

Either way, I wish you luck and blessings. :)

Malisa McCown

http://offbeatbride.com/search?cx=017084245293590213244%3Aw-wped9kpqo&cof=FORID%3A10&ie=UTF-8&q=name+changing&sa=Search&siteurl=offbeatbride.com%2Farchives&ref=offbeatbride.com%2F
http://apracticalwedding.com/tag/changing-your-name/

Emily said...

Ultimately, if Jeremy is cool with it, do whatever feels comfortable. I think you could still write under "Heather Bohlender" even if you change it. People write under pseudonyms and all kinds of variations of their own name, so that would be fine. I tend to think hyphenated names are bulky, and people usually revert to the second of the two names. I also tend to be more in the camp of taking his, but get back to me when I'm about to marry a man with 13 syllables in his last name. :) I probably won't rename you in my phone, and I'll think of you as Heather Bohlender for a long while, at the very least. But 24 years from now, Sterndale might be just as comfortable for you as Bohlender, and we will barely remember the days we called you Heather Bo. You'll be signing your own checks and reciepts etc... I say, do what you wanna do, girl!

Rande said...

I loved this post, thank you! I've felt all these things, even when I was single and thought of the possibility of marrying a man I didn't want to change my name. Now that I'm with a woman, it's a much more interesting question, I'd be more open to changing my name to hers (maybe I feel like I don't have to "prove anything" as a feminist since I'd already be marrying a woman?). Mostly we've discussed coming up with an entirely new last name for us as a couple and it would really only become important if we had children. The hyphenating thing is way too much work. I think it would be very sweet and interesting if he was open to taking your name. Ultimately it doesn't matter as long as you feel good about the decision and it's not made based on what other people want for you.

Big Rich said...

I can only speak for myself but I do know some other men that feel the same way that I do. If Natalie had decided not to take my last name I would have been really hurt. My mom changed her last name to her middle name. She was very proud of her family but she was also very proud to be Mrs. Young. That probably shaped my thinking growing up. I always imagined who my wife would be and I enjoyed the thought of her being Mrs. Young. I am not going to say that I know where you are coming from because I don't. And I know I haven't thought about it as much as you have. I have alot more to say about this but I don't feel like I can do it justice in a blog comment. In the end I hope you come up with a solution that will leave both you and Jeremy feeling comfortable, loved, and respected.

Heather said...

Hey friends, thanks for all of these great ideas on the politics of changing ones name. I appreciate any feedback sent my way.

kessia reyne said...

To shorten quite a long story, I took my husband's last name (Bennett) for basically aesthetic reasons: I liked it better than my maiden name (Lawson). I'm not very attached to my family of origin, however, so my maiden name didn't really evoke within me feelings of familial pride or some nostalgia that I wanted to retain. And for me "Lawson" was my father's last name anyway-- not my mother's (and hers was my grandfather's!) so it seemed like I was just choosing between androcentric last names,... so I just chose the one I liked.

I did not, however, rule out choosing my own, new last name. I even had one picked out! But then I met and fell in with Joshua Bennett and it had a nice ring to it :) For the record, though, I make it known that I am Ms. Kessia Reyne Bennett, not Mrs. Kessia Reyne Bennett.

Although we like to quote Shakespeare that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," I think if Rose wanted to be called Stardust, she has the right ;)

Claudia said...

In high school I wondered the same. What happens with MY name? Throughout the years and thanks to wedding invites, this has come up again, specially when Malisa and Joe, whom I consider a good friends, got married.

Here's what I've concluded. I LOVE my name. It's me, it's my family history, (as a Mexican child, I legally have dad's last name and mom's maiden name). Though I only sign things as Pech (long story), I really don't want to change my legal name. Hyphenate... maybe. but I don't want to knock off my mom's name to do that and three last names for me would be a mouthful and hefty to write.

For a while I liked how most Hispanic country do it. If I were to marry in my motherland of Mexico, I would be expected to become Claudia Cristina Pech de Smith. (Just tossing a common last name, no Smith in my life. :-P) I would get to keep my last name but lose my mother's maiden name. I could somehow come to terms with the latter except for that little two-letter word, "de," is loaded. It means "of," as in "belonging to." Literally, my name would be Claudia Cristina Pech of/belonging to Smith. While I will not marry someone who treats me as property, the origin of this word has made me think twice about that option.

Going back to histories, a man adds a woman to his when she takes on his last name. Realistically, she doesn't really have part of that family until then, so why carry decades of his history in a last name that wasn't hers until marriage? And what happens to hers?

I'm glad you've found a supportive man to talk things with. I'm not sure where you are on this decision, but I agree that you should do whatever feels comfortable. Either way, you will always be Heather. :-)

Claudia said...

In high school I wondered the same. What happens with MY name? Throughout the years and thanks to wedding invites, this has come up again, specially when Malisa and Joe, whom I consider a good friends, got married.

Here's what I've concluded. I LOVE my name. It's me, it's my family history, (as a Mexican child, I legally have dad's last name and mom's maiden name). Though I only sign things as Pech (long story), I really don't want to change my legal name. Hyphenate... maybe. but I don't want to knock off my mom's name to do that and three last names for me would be a mouthful and hefty to write.

For a while I liked how most Hispanic country do it. If I were to marry in my motherland of Mexico, I would be expected to become Claudia Cristina Pech de Smith. (Just tossing a common last name, no Smith in my life. :-P) I would get to keep my last name but lose my mother's maiden name. I could somehow come to terms with the latter except for that little two-letter word, "de," is loaded. It means "of," as in "belonging to." Literally, my name would be Claudia Cristina Pech of/belonging to Smith. While I will not marry someone who treats me as property, the origin of this word has made me think twice about that option.

Going back to histories, a man adds a woman to his when she takes on his last name. Realistically, she doesn't really have part of that family until then, so why carry decades of his history in a last name that wasn't hers until marriage? And what happens to hers?

I'm glad you've found a supportive man to talk things with. I'm not sure where you are on this decision, but I agree that you should do whatever feels comfortable. Either way, you will always be Heather. :-)

Kylie said...

I'm proud of you. I support you. I love you. Bohlender or Sterndale or Bohlenbarberdale.